Public Employees Face Increased Threat of Workplace Violence

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare and public employees already face an increased risk of workplace violence. The recessionary economy has lead to increases in layoffs, pay cuts and work furloughs that place added stress on everyone, especially state and local government employees.

The Bureau also reports that from 1997 to 2007, the most recent years for which data is available, there were more than 7,000 occupational homicides nationwide. While most involved robberies, more than 1,000 involved work associates. Here are just a few recent examples of how workplace violence has affected government and public employees:

San Diego, March 24, 2009— A veteran Metropolitan Transit System mechanic announced “nobody’s going to leave” and then gunned down two co-workers before police fatally shot him in the parking lot.

Brockport, N.Y., February 14, 2009— A 35-year-old nursing supervisor opened fire in the parking lot of a hospital from which he was recently fired. He shot three people, killing two former coworkers, and later shot a married couple inside their home.

San Antonio, Texas, October 13, 2008— A librarian shot and killed a fellow librarian at Northeast Lakeview Community College library, where the two men worked.

Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for ADT Security Services said “There are several warning signs associated with potentially violent employees; these warning signs do not guarantee an individual is prone to violence, but violence is always a possibility when the signs are present.”

While there are many warning signs that indicate an employee may be in distress, these three warning signs in particular can pose a safety threat not only to coworkers but also to the general public:

Increased need for supervision. As employees become more experienced in their work they typically need less supervision. An employee who exhibits an increased need for supervision, or with whom the supervisor must spend an excessive amount of time, may be in need of help.

Strained workplace relationships. If a worker begins to display disruptive behavior in the workplace or is involved in a confrontation with other employees it is imperative that the manager intervene as quickly as possible to diffuse potentially violent situations. This indicator should be taken seriously. A worker who exhibits disruptive behavior is in need of immediate counseling and, if appropriate, law enforcement assistance.

Threats, bullying and intimidation. These could be warning signs of potential violence, so employers should create an open, comfortable environment for employees to report any instance of bullying or intimidation that may occur in the workplace. An anonymous hotline should be made available for employees to report these types of incidents.

Fiel said, “It is important that everyone in the workplace is alert to these warning indicators to provide a positive, timely response to ensure a safe and secure work environment in addition to the safety of clients and the general public.”

In addition to identifying and addressing these potential indicators of workplace violence, security systems are also a crucial tools that should be implemented at every workplace, they are especially important for public employees. Video surveillance, access control and visitor management systems are an invaluable tool to help maintain a safe environment in public buildings.

-- PSW Staff

(Image: Patrick Fiel)